From Dr. Jennifer Haythe, M.D. Cardiologist for the Center for Advanced Cardiac Care and Co-Director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health at New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center.
The prospect of starting an exercise routine and trying to get in shape can be daunting. You probably have many questions about safety, which are easily turned into excuses. What I tell all of my patients is that exercise is an essential part of living a healthy and productive life. There are no good excuses and whatever your underlying medical problems, there is always some level of activity that you and your doctor can safely determine.
First, I advise people to always see their physician before starting an exercise routine – particularly if they haven’t exercised for years or forever. For most people (barring any physical limitations), walking is a terrific way to start yourself down the fitness road. The investment in a pair of sneakers is nominal for how far they can take you. Depending on how sedentary you may be, start by walking for 10 minutes a day, 4 times a week. Ask a friend to join you if that helps get you motivated. Pick a time to meet and show up – make a pact that you cannot cancel. Once you feel comfortable walking 10 minutes, increase by 5 minutes per week until you reach 30-40 minutes/day.
If walking with a friend doesn’t interest you, use the time to think and meditate. Download an audiobook onto your smart phone, try a new podcast, or make a playlist of your favorite motivating songs. Another option is to bring your sneakers to work and take 10 minutes from your lunchbreak to take a walk around the building or outside. If you recently had a baby, take the baby for a walk and combine that with your fitness routine.
Once you have safely gotten into a stable walking program, consider increasing your level of activity – this may come naturally as you begin to feel stronger and more confident. Some apps for your phone can help. C25K is a great app that literally guides you from the “Couch” to jogging a 5k. With 45 second interval training, C25k will slowly help you build endurance so that people who never believed they could jog are now running short distances.
Besides slowly improving your cardiovascular fitness, it is also essential to strengthen your core muscles as you age. Again, discuss these plans with your doctor for guidance on what is appropriate for your age, skill level, and underlying medical conditions. Repetitions with small weights (1 lb is fine), sit ups, planks, balance exercises, and stretches all improve core strength, posture and coordination. Stretching is a great way to improve blood circulation, improve flexibility and reduce stress and tension.
If you have been living a sedentary lifestyle now is the time to take back control of your body! Get off the couch, take a break from the TV, and stop telling yourself you CAN’T . You actually CAN do it and as you do more you will be amazed at how good you feel and how differently you see yourself.
*Feature image from Nike.